06/27/2016

By ChORUS Staff

 

I happened to recently get entangled into a conversation regarding older drivers and whether or not it is acceptable to limit their driving. Ironically, the conversation was between two drivers who were both over the age of 65. Now if there is one thing that I have learned from my own elders, my grandmother to be specific, is that they are always right. So this wasn’t so much of a conversation as it really was a “listen and say nothing to disagree” session.

But the conversation on older driver safety is definitely an important one to think about. Both of these individuals are currently working and rely on driving for their transportation. There are natural changes that happen to all of us as we age and the cognitive and motor skills that are needed for safe driving can decline with age. However there is no set age when these changes can occur, therefore a lot of individuals 65 and older are still driving safely.

Working and Driving

An important fact is that a lot of older drivers are still in the workforce and their value in the workforce itself is undeniable. Older workers have years of experience that often propel businesses forward. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any decline happening with the number of older drivers who currently drive to work themselves.

Financial Impact

Another point to consider is that there is a growing need for individuals to keep working as they get older. Finances are a growing concern amongst everyone. And with the increased amount of older adults who are still the family breadwinners, retiring is sometimes not an option. And with limits to social security and pension funds, many retirees have to return to work due to finances.

Safety

During the conversation I wasn’t allowed to have opinions on with the two older drivers, but the safety aspect was actually mentioned. It was countered by the comparison to younger drivers. Lots of younger drivers cause harm to themselves and others by having unsafe driving habits. To a degree that’s very true. I can look back to when I first started driving, and even worse when I obtained my first car that was considered “fast.” Let’s just say I’m happy to have the ability to be writing this right now. As the years went by, I learned to be more of a safe driver. This is the argument that was made. And yes it’s true that older drivers practice safer driving habits, but the declining motor skills, eyesight, hearing, and other medical conditions that appear with age is the bigger issue. And the issue itself is also what happens once a crash occurs. According to the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, persons age 55 and older have twice the risk of dying in a work-related crash than younger workers do. Also, motor vehicle crashes account for 32% of all work-related deaths among workers age 55 or older. This is related in part to the higher fragility of older drivers when compared to younger ones.

Prevention

So what can be done to help prevent or lower the risk of work-related crashes among older drivers? I think a big part of the responsibility lies with both the older driver and their employer. Older drivers should make it a priority to maintain their driving skills as they age. At the same time, companies should encourage safe habits and practices to help an older driver maintain the motor functions needed for safe driving. There are a number of things that an employer itself can do to reduce the risk, including:

·         Set work schedules that allow for adequate sleep

·         Encourage breaks during work shifts

·         Promote a positive work environment, which can relieve stress

·         Promote awareness of sleep disorders and other illnesses that reduce the quality of sleep. In fact, sleep apnea is one of the most widely under diagnosed disorders that can be addressed and “fixed” fairly easily. Those with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for increased crashes.

It would also benefit to offer defensive driving programs for all employees, not just the older workers. There will be situations where it will be good to have defensive driving knowledge in order to potentially avoid crashes, whether in the work parking lot or driving to/from work.

Thinking again about the earlier graphic that shows the age ranges of older drivers in 2020, I think it’s pretty safe to say that there will not be a reduction in the amount of older drivers anytime soon. What’s important is that both the worker and the employer promote good habits to reduce the risk of crashes driving to/from work.

Image by CDC